Showing posts with label Reading Rumpelstilzchen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reading Rumpelstilzchen. Show all posts

Friday, May 23, 2008

Reading Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin is an odd fellow. Sharing traits of both wild man and witch, he is indeed a rare breed of fairytale figure. It might be said that he represents two opposing attitudes toward paganism: on the one hand, paganism can be thought of as a virtuous and more natural way of life. On the other hand, it may also be associated with a demonic or unnatural lifestyle, one that should be shunned. Rumpelstiltskin does not fit neatly into the typical template for a fairytale fiend. He is a diligent worker, honest and true to his word. He is compassionate for he shows mercy to the queen and allows her to win back her child. We can only laud his priorities and agree with him when he says: “A living thing is more dear to me than all the treasures of the earth.”This is contrasted with the ignoble king, who loves gold above all else and only marries the miller’s daughter to enrich himself. He admits “Even if she is only a miller’s daughter, I will not find a richer woman in the whole world.”
And the queen might be quick-witted but is not necessarily a principled character. She relinquishes her first-born child because it is expedient and makes sense to her at the time.

The wild man of ancient mythology often appeared on German heraldic shields with uprooted tree in hand. He is wild, rough and crude like a satyr or faun and is associated with plants, trees and wild animals. But Rumpelstiltskin bakes and brews and this also connects him to witches, who frequently performed such tasks in fairy tales. Baking and brewing were essential tasks for survival in ancient cultures. It is very unusual to encounter a male witch in a German fairy tale and so it is worthwhile to read this story very carefully.

Another theme in Rumpelstiltskin is the power of language and naming things. But what exactly does the name Rumpelstiltskin mean? I have read several explanations, including one that interprets Rumpel as the sound made by little stilts (stiltzchen) or little legs of this diminutive character. It is impossible to ascribe a precise meaning to the name, but it does evoke the idea of a person of small stature and unknown magical properties. See commentary on The White Snake or Taboo for more on the topic of language and naming things.
There are several versions of the story. In the one printed here, Rumpelstiltskin is seized by such a powerful rage that he tears himself in two, an apt metaphor for two worldviews colliding and ripping apart the very essence of his being. In another version, he merely flies out the window on a spoon (reminiscent of a witch on a broomstick). His wretched lament at the end that “the devil told you” brings to mind a person indicting a world he doesn’t really understand or expect fair treatment from. He remains illusive but in the end, the story is still very entertaining.

To read the Brother Grimm's Version of Rumpelstiltskin, hit the link:

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 55: Rumpelstiltskin

There was once a miller who was poor, but he had a beautiful daughter. Now it happened that he came into conversation with the king and to gain his favor told him “I have a daughter who can spin straw into gold.” The king replied “That is an art, which I hold dear. If your daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to my castle in the morning. I will test her skill.” When the maid was brought to him, he led her to a chamber, which was packed full with straw, gave her a spinning wheel and bobbin and said “Now get to work and if you do not spin this straw into gold by morning, you must die.” With that he closed the door to the chamber and she sat all alone.

The poor miller’s daughter sat quietly and did not know how to save her life. She knew nothing about how straw was spun to gold. Her fear grew until she finally began to cry bitterly. At once the door opened and a small man came inside. He spoke “Good evening, dear miller’s daughter, why are you crying so pitifully?”
“Oh,” the maid replied, “I must spin straw into gold and I don’t know how.” The little man spoke “What will you give me if I spin it for you?” “My necklace,” the maid replied. The little man took her necklace, sat in front of the wheel and whirr, whirr, whirr, the wheel turned three times and the spindle was full. Then he placed another spindle on the wheel and whirr, whirr, whirr, the wheel turned three times and the second spindle was also full. And so it continued until morning. All the straw was spun and all spindles were full of gold. When the sun went up the king entered the chamber. When he saw the gold, he was amazed and happy. But his heart was greedy for even more gold. He took the miller’s daughter to another chamber full of straw, which was even larger and commanded her to spin this too into gold if she cherished her life. The maid did not know what to do and cried bitter tears. The door opened once more and the small man appeared and said “What will you give me if I spin the straw into gold?” “The ring on my finger,” the maid replied. The little man took the ring and began once more to turn the wheel and had spun all the straw into brilliant gold by morning. The king’s joy was without bounds but he was still greedy for gold. He took the miller’s daughter to an even larger chamber full of straw and said “You must once more spin this night. But if you succeed you shall become my wife.” “Even if she is only a miller’s daughter,” he thought, “I will not find a richer woman in the whole world.” When the maid was once again alone, the little man came to her a third time and said “What will you give me if I spin the straw for you this time?” “I have nothing more that I can give,” the maid replied. “So promise me when you become queen that you will give me your first child.” “Who knows what will happen,” the miller’s daughter thought and she did not know what else to do. She promised the little man what he demanded and once more the little man spun the straw into gold. And in the morning the king came and found everything as he desired it. He celebrated his marriage with her and the beautiful miller’s daughter became queen.

Over a year later the queen bore a beautiful child and she didn’t even think about the little man again. Suddenly he entered her chamber and said “Now give me what you have promised.” The queen recoiled in fear and offered the little man all the riches of the kingdom if he would leave her the child. But the little man replied: “No, a living thing is more dear to me than all the treasures of the earth.” The queen began to weep and wail, so that the little man had compassion for her. “I will give you three days time,” he said. “If you know my name by then, you shall keep your child.”

The entire night through the queen recalled all the names she had ever heard and sent a messenger throughout the land to find all the names that existed far and wide. When the little man returned the next day, she began with Caspar, Melchior, Balzer and said all the names that she knew in order. But each time the little man said “My name that is not.” The second day she asked around the neighborhood, what people were called there and recited to the little man the most unusual and strange names. “Are you perhaps called Beastyrib or Lambchop or Stringbone? But he always replied “My name that is not.” On the third day, the messenger returned and said “I could not find out any new names, but when I reached a high mountain and came around a bend in the wood, where fox and hare say goodnight to each other, I saw a small hut and in front of the hut burned a fire and around the fire jumped a funny little man. He hopped on one leg and cried:

“Today I bake, tomorrow I brew,
Next, the queen’s child is mine;
How good it is that no one knows
Rumpelstiltskin is my name!”

You can imagine how happy the queen was when she heard the name. And soon after the little man entered her chamber and asked “Now, Mistress Queen, what is my name?” She first asked “Is your name Kunz?” “No.” “Is your name Heinz?” “No”.

“Is your name perhaps Rumpelstiltskin?”

“The devil told you, the devil told you,” the little man cried and in his rage stamped his little foot so with such force that he sank into the ground up to his waist. Then he stamped his left foot into the ground in rage and with both hands tore himself in two.

To read more about Rumpelstiltskin:

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